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Park Advocate: Tree That Killed Woman In Queens Was Diseased

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- A tree that fell in a Queens park and left a pregnant woman dead this past weekend was diseased and hollow, according to the president of New York City Park Advocates.

Geoffrey Croft spoke Tuesday with 1010 WINS about the tree that took the life of Yingyi Li, 30, this past Sunday evening in Kissena Park in Flushing.

He said the tree that fell down onto the park bench where she was sitting was "diseased and hollow," and showed signs of "butt rot," which significantly reduces the wood strength of trees it infects.

Croft accused the city of failing to inspect the trees and make sure that they do not end up in the condition of the Kissena Park tree.

"A major percentage of the tree was hollow, so you cannot have those trees out in the public, and the city has to inspect them, and they have to hire licensed people to do that. We need hundreds upon hundreds of them," he said.

But city lawmakers have not allocated the funding necessary to hire those licensed people, Croft said.

"The mayor and the City Council, irresponsibly every year, allocate a fraction of the funds necessary, and it's negligent, and after so many years, you would think that they would get the message. But clearly, they are not," he said. "How many more people have to be injured? How many more people have to be killed?"

Croft said the city could have used money it has had to pay out as a result of lawsuits stemming from accidents involving trees to hire the inspectors.

"Over the last couple of the months, the city settled just two lawsuits for $14.5 million, and they have dozens that are still pending," he said. "That $14.5 million – that would go a long way in terms of trying to hire the qualified people that we need."

The tree fell just before 7 p.m. Sunday. Li was six months pregnant when she lost her life to the giant limb.
Ling and her husband, Aleksander Dikov, were preparing to move to a new home bordering the park -- the spot where they took their first picture together.

A state lawmaker also said Monday afternoon that the accident was preventable.

"The city does not put enough money into tree maintenance," said state Sen. Tony Avella (D-Queens.) "That goes for a tree in a city park or a street tree."

Furthermore, advocates pointed out that over the past four years, falling branches have killed several people.

On June 26, 2010, 6-month-old Gianna Ricciutt was killed and her mother was injured when a tree branch fell in Central Park. About four months before that, restaurant worker Elmaz Qyra was killed by a falling tree limb in Central Park soon after leaving his busboy shift at the New York Athletic Club.

In 2009, Sasha Blair-Goldensohn, 33, suffered a brain and spinal cord injury after a rotten branch fell on him in Central Park. The city paid him more than $11 million after he sued for negligence and lackluster maintenance.

Park advocates and Avella have called on Mayor Michael Bloomberg to suspend his Million Tree Program, and use the funds directed toward it for maintenance instead.

"We've been told that time and time and time again, that the city would much rather fight lawsuits than invest the money to prevent them, which is outrageous."

Officials said the oak tree is approximately 70 years old and 50-feet tall. It snapped about eight feet from the ground.

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